Recording cemetery monuments is nothing new. In the 19th century, there were already slues of scholars, historians, community members, church groups, and historical societies exploring and recording churches, churchyards, and burial grounds around the world.
Fast forward to the 21st century, the Internet is crawling with sites filled with monument records. Some are regionally focussed, others are mass databases that seemingly have accumulated global coverage. But some of these are expensive – some are businesses, others support historical societies (note: we would never condone breaking licenses or usurping the revenue stream of non-profits!) Other sites are free, but are collages of many different projects and different people – the format, terms and completeness of each entry varies. It is often impossible to download whole collections.
As a result, it can be expensive and time consuming to do even basic research. For larger-scale projects that may be interested in comparing monuments in different regions or time periods, or tracing families around the world, it can feel like an impossible endeavour.
But funerary monuments are valuable sources for studying families, identity and community, social relationships, tradition, religion, symbolism and art, trade and craft – the possibilities are endless. Lifetimes could be spent exploring these spaces – but they are also under threat of environmental decay, development, and vandalism. Monuments simply won’t be around forever.
The Monumental Archive Project was established to act as an open platform for historic cemeteries research to address issues of accessibility and sustainability, whilst also stimulating creativity and collaboration.
It has been a year in the making and is still in the beginning stages. It is being launched with one collection of more than 20 locations in Barbados, with more than 2000 monuments. From here, it is hoped that the collection will grow, and that users will also share their results, their tips, their ideas.
The resources are free (and will always be free) to use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. This means that anyone can use the archive and the photos and maps associated with it, as long as the reference the source of the collection, and use it for non-commercial purposes.
You can search the archives, you can download the entire file, you can explore them through maps, you can learn about the individual sites or churchyards. This blog will act as a space for discussion and guest blogs about individual research experiences, ideas and tips.
The past year has been spent in initial development, with the support of the Digital Archaeology Institute at the Michigan State University. In the coming year(s), it is hoped that the collections will continue to grow and that there will be opportunities for crowd-sourcing, dialogue and more! Stay tuned, share widely, and follow our blog and Twitter.